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New Steeler Brandon Boykin further explains Chip Kelly remarks

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LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired Brandon Boykin -- after actively pursuing him, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, since the draft -- to try to answer some questions in an inexperienced secondary.

But first, in the hours it took the cornerback to jump in his car for the drive from Philadelphia to Latrobe Sunday morning, Boykin created a few more questions for Kelly. Boykin, who is 5-foot-9, was considered shorter than what Kelly considers ideal for outside corners, so despite having six interceptions in 2013 while playing in the slot -- and despite openly hoping for a chance to start -- Boykin was left in the slot last season, even while the starting outside corners struggled against elite receivers. Boykin was not part of the Eagles' starting plans as they rebuilt their secondary.

So perhaps it was sour grapes that led to Boykin's comments about Kelly on Sunday, first in a text message to CSNPhilly.com and then more expansively to reporters who greeted him at Steelers training camp.

"I said that he was uncomfortable with men of our culture," Boykin said to the media covering Steelers training camp Sunday. "I'm not saying he's a racist at all. When you are a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach outside of football. When you're not talking football scheme, I want to be able to sit there and talk to you about whatever. There were times, he just wouldn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn't say anything to you. And I don't know what that is. I'm not saying he's a racist in any way. As a player, I wanted to be able to relate to my coach a little bit better and I felt like a lot of guys in that locker room feel the same way. Of course. when you're in the organization, you're not going to voice your opinion. I've always been a guy of honesty -- you're honest with me, I'll be honest with you. I felt that honesty wasn't there all the time."

Boykin said he would forever be grateful for the opportunity Kelly had given him to play. But his comments seem to echo some of those uttered by LeSean McCoy, who in an ESPN interview last spring, accused Kelly of getting rid of "all the good black players."

The facts would seem to dispute that -- after all, Kelly also got rid of Evan Mathis this offseason and acquired DeMarco Murray. But if thoughts like Boykin's and McCoy's grow into a drumbeat of perception, it could eventually create difficulty as the Eagles try to recruit free agents.

"Whether the public wants to believe it or not, we're actually in the locker room," Boykin said. "I'm not saying Chip is a racist by any means. I'm just saying there were times people wanted to be able to relate to him better and it didn't happen. I know it will be an ongoing story -- people aren't just saying this because it's something cool to say. I just know -- I respect him as a person, but as a player, we just didn't have that connection."

Boykin said he would not talk about Kelly again and there will be little reason for him to do so. He was gleeful at having joined the Steelers. He tweeted a picture of a Terrible Towel and pointedly said several friends on the team told him of the Steelers' "great atmosphere."

It is also, for Boykin, a great chance. The Steelers, with a secondary already in transition after the retirements of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor and the departure of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, need both depth and experience and, most critically, turnovers. In the last three seasons combined, Pittsburgh has nabbed just 31 interceptions while facing 1,635 pass attempts. Last season, the Steelers ranked 27th in pass defense.

"Abysmal," said new defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

The Steelers were noncommittal about where Boykin might play and whether he could slide into a starting job immediately. But the Steelers need bodies in the secondary, particularly with second-round draft pick Senquez Golson unable to practice with a shoulder injury. Boykin practiced with the secondary Sunday afternoon under Mike Tomlin's direct tutelage. Tomlin has taken to more hands-on instruction of the secondary during this camp, harking back to his days as the defensive backs coach under Tony Dungy/Jon Gruden (and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) in Tampa.

Tomlin left LeBeau's defense alone when he became the Steelers' head coach in 2007, but his heavy involvement in teaching the defensive backfield this camp suggests the Steelers will incorporate a heavy dose of Cover 2 -- Tomlin's forte. Since 2011, the Steelers have used five first- or second-round draft picks on front-seven players, giving them the chance to get pressure with their line and evolve into a defense that predominantly uses four-man fronts from one that has historically run a 3-4. Combining that with a successful Cover 2 -- the coverage that Tomlin won a championship with in Tampa, and one that is designed to prevent against giving up the big play -- would address the problem Butler immediately identified from 2014: The Steelers allowed too many passes to go over their heads.

"That's not all the secondary's fault," Butler said. "It's our fault for not applying any pressure on first and second down. It's got to come from the front seven, from a four-man rush -- we can't blitz all the time."

That is a significant departure in philosophy for the Steelers, an indication that as surely as Boykin is ready to leave Philadelphia behind for a fresh start, the Steelers are hoping for one, too.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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